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  • Peta White

Ladies: step up, toughen up

Peta White, senior managing director and head of North American Property Reinsurance at Markel Global Re and a Board member of Women in Reinsurance (WiRe), recently discussed with Bermuda:Re+ILS what Bermuda can do to achieve a more diverse workforce. The magazine has allowed WiRe to publish the article in its entirety.

Many companies now recognise the challenges they face around ensuring their workforce is diverse and, as part of this, that a healthy proportion of their employees are women. But rather than see this as a challenge to overcome, companies should focus on the benefits this can bring.

That is the view of Peta White, senior managing director and head of North American Property Reinsurance at Markel Global Re, who also argues that Bermuda is doing better than many places in this regard with many positive initiatives, and that companies should not be too hard on themselves.

“Research has shown that balancing the gender ratio has a direct positive impact on a company’s profitability and performance. Women have different and unique skills relative to men. But just placing women into leadership roles is not the quick fix; there must be a culture of inclusion, where they feel invited and empowered,” White says.

“The female representation in Bermuda re/insurance seems to be good, I have always found this industry to be more encouraging of women, and their representation is probably similar to what we are seeing in US colleges, which is more than 50 percent. Certainly, the ratio of women to men here at Markel (Bermuda) is 64 percent to 36 percent.

“The issue, and our challenge as an industry, is that the percentage of women decreases as you move up the executive hierarchy. Too many women are bowing out of the industry or their efforts are not recognised as they try to climb the corporate ladder.”

Tangible action gets results

White notes that there has been an increasing effort in Bermuda over the last few years to promote women.

WiRe (Women in Reinsurance), on the board of which White says she is proud to sit, was founded in 2008 by professional women who recognised a need to create opportunities to share ideas, educate and help promote other women in the industry. WiRe does so by providing education, mentoring and networking opportunities.

BII (the Bermuda Insurance Institute) is another example of an organisation focusing on helping the advancement of women. It has recently launched its 12-month Women Series which involves lunch and learns, workshops and panel discussions covering various topics such as the reality of the work/life balance, and pathways to non-executive directorship.

Last year, Zurich (Bermuda) was instrumental in the formation of the Women’s Resource Group Roundtable. This forum invites any company from any industry to meet and share Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives, to share experiences and brainstorm other ideas.

White notes that some companies are much further ahead in their D&I initiatives and these companies are helping share strategies and tactics that are moving the needle for them so that other companies can take some of these learned strategies with confidence to their own company.

“Hearing some of the challenges and successes other companies have had, will give courage to others to make change within their company,” she says.

She believes Markel has shown its commitment by introducing the Markel Women’s Network over a year ago which, she says, is making progress. White is co-head of the network in Bermuda and works with top management across the different Markel locations in sharing ideas, strategies, and successes.

But, she adds, no company should rest on its laurels.

“Organisations generally have to do more. This cannot be driven by women alone and from the bottom up. This needs to come from the board down; executives need to be passionately committed to this and personally get involved. There have to be goals, strategies and objectives in place, and there has to be accountability from the top management,” she says.

White argues that organisations need to embed a D&I strategy (broader than just gender equality) into their culture and offer key awareness programmes on topics such as unconscious bias to all employees at all levels. Companies should monitor statistics such as female representation at all career levels, and come up with a strategy to correct the imbalances. This should be part of a company’s corporate objectives and, again, be led from the top down.

“This is very much an iterative process and will not happen overnight. In the meantime, I ask women to put aside their self-doubt and step up!” she says.

“You need to promote yourself as much as you can—say yes to opportunities that come your way. Even better, go after opportunities. Toughen up—if you feel you are not getting a deserved opportunity, don’t let it slide by; you need to hold your boss/company accountable, even if it is just for an explanation.

“Be more visual—say yes to sitting on panels, agree to an article being written on you, and to giving presentations at conferences.”

White says she cares deeply about the development of professional women, both at Markel and across Bermuda. “I’m passionate about helping other women get the confidence to climb the next rung of the corporate ladder. With some of the more recent initiatives and efforts mentioned above, it feels as though there is change in the air here and I am very excited to be part of it.”

Ebbs and flows

White is upbeat about the general health of the Bermuda risk transfer market. She notes that merger and acquisition (M&A) activity ebbs and flows, and while there has been some recently on the Island, she does not believe it will detract from Bermuda’s reputation as a global hub and centre of excellence.

“We are a collaborative jurisdiction—industry, government and regulators work closely together. We attract and continually build up top talent. We have great leaders who help guide the industry, one of innovation and entrepreneurialism,” she says.

“We have a government which is pro-business and a respected and reputable regulatory body. We also will always have the advantage of geographic location, time zone, and lifestyle. I believe we will continue to attract industries that want to be at the forefront.”

Following the 2017 cat events, Markel hoped for more significant rate increases but were not surprised by the lack of them, White admits.

“The market rate reaction has ‘matured’ post losses due to supply continually outbalancing demand; no longer do you see across-the-board rate increases but they are very localised; you see rate increases specific to the line of business, to the territory and to the layer in a programme that experienced a loss.

“We were not sure how much capital would come back into the industry post the 2017 losses but we were aware that not enough capital was damaged to significantly change the demand/supply equation,” she says.

The other factor that muted rate increases for Markel was that over the past few years, in light of the

challenging rate environment, the company has shifted its book towards providing larger lines with long-term partners who it felt were best in class. Given the closeness of these relationships and the quality of the business, however, many accounts did not then warrant big rate hikes in the aftermath of the losses.

“We are looking to have a trading relationship with our clients that is sustainable, and with Markel having a broad relationship across various line/segments with our clients, we can look more holistically at this,” White says.

“We are in a luxury position within Markel in that we are writing against a large, diversified balance sheet where our focus is not on top line growth but on long-term profitable business.

“We never ‘broad brush’ the market, never make sweeping statements about our approach to renewals. Each client is unique with its own story, its own dynamic, its own experience and its own relationship with us. We will continue to take an individualistic view on them and weigh in our extensive qualitative analysis with our quantitative analysis.”

She also stresses that the company will never rest on its laurels. “We think every day about how to stay relevant to our clients and how to grow profitable business. The opportunity is in creating new demand, and reducing the protection gap—our focus has been on the gap between insured loss and economic loss, on flood peril specifically, where we think the biggest opportunity is.

“We have made great inroads into our private flood initiative over the last two years and have built out a meaningful book,” she concludes.

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